The Verdant Braes Of Skreen


Jon attributes this as “A song I know from Fay who sings it with Damien Barber. I’ve been enjoying the version by the McPeake family too.”

It seems to be associated with the McPeakes for sure, although this is also known as P Stands For Paddy, T Stands For Thomas, etc and other things besides. It’s also one of those somewhat slippery songs whose verses are prone to wander in and out of others, which coupled with its wide spread makes it tricky to pin down. Thankfully Reinhard covers off several of the recordings at Mainly Norfolk and this Mudcat thread tries to get to grips with its origins. You’ll note some dissent as to the Irish root and an attempt to suggest symbolism that doesn’t really stand up to examination. Irish certainly seems likely given both the Skreen location, with the McPeake lineage also looking sound. I am curious as to what the robbing of a birds nest has to do with anything though, unless simply as a feat of derring-do that proves devotion. Any thoughts? While we’re at it, there seems to me to be a strange voyeuristic element that makes you wonder whether the narrator is simply unnoticed by the young couple, or is something slightly more sinister happening. Perhaps I’m being a bit too literal and all that recent gadding off to the woods has got to me.



15 Responses to “The Verdant Braes Of Skreen”

  1. Anthea Rutherford says:

    The lady in question’s rival being a ‘Connaught maid’ would certainly argue for Irish as well.

    Lovely tune.

  2. Jon Boden says:

    I’ve always assumed the wild bird’s nest verse to be a metaphor for intended infidelity – the protagonist boasting that the girl he ‘loves best’ will take him back anyway. Men. I ask you.

  3. John Biggs says:

    This is a most beautiful song, that I heard the MkPeake family sing many years ago in a club session. Also I think Alex Campbell used to sing it. Yes, you can find similarities with the lyrics of other songs, in particular the other MkPeake favourite, Wild Mountain Thyme.
    Let us not taint such a beautiful song by labelling the narrator as a Peeping Tom, but rather that he is in fact sitting reflecting on an incident in his own love life that he wishes now had turned out differently. But then I am an incurable romantic !
    The symbolism of the wild bird’s nest is beyond me, but there is a lot of bird nesting going on in folk music. It is a good thing that it is now illegal.
    Jon sings this very well, (Was it recorded in a church ?) and it will certainly be one of my favourites of his 365.

  4. Reinhard says:

    As another song says: “At the bottom of the belly lies the cuckoo’s nest.”

  5. Simon says:

    The penny drops!!

  6. Jane Ramsden says:

    Cara Dillon sings ‘P Stands For Paddy (Lament For Johnny)’ followed by ‘The Verdant Braes Of Skreen’ on her ‘Hill Of Thieves’ album, and she is from Dungiven in County Derry.

    There is an expression about ‘a bird’s nest at your doorstep’ meaning to remind you of the past when you were young, so maybe John’s romantic memory notion above is not far wrong.

    To me though, since this young lady won’t have him now, the young man is simply going to go back to his other girlfriend and take his love token of a bird’s egg with him. An ordinary bird’s egg given as a gift has been around for thousands of years. Even as long ago as the Middle Ages, eggs were painted gaudy colours to give them further meaning as a gift. (Then the chocolate version of the traditional egg was developed, hence Easter eggs.)

    Also, to see a bird nest in your dreams symbolises independence, refuge and security. You need something to fall back on, so this young man (rejected by this young lady) falls back on his other admirer. Eggs symbolise not just fertility, but also domestic contentment, though they can also sometimes conversely signify captivity or entrapment. But the cuckoo in the nest symbolises unfaithfulness, or someone whose presence is unwelcome.

  7. Nick Passmore says:

    I have accidentally solved my own conundrum: if your iTunes download appears in grey, as opposed to black, with no “GET” toggle, try double-clicking it (in my case, in petulant annoyance..) and it will mysteriously download, complete with picture. Hope that helps anyone else who’s been having the same problem as me.
    And the Mick Hanley record is Mulligan LUN 005. I think it’s available on CD too – has a great flute solo by Matt Molloy in the middle…..

  8. John Biggs says:

    Thank you for that Jane. The mist is starting to clear.

  9. Jane Ramsden says:

    You are welcome, John. I think this young man either left the girl in the song for another, or courted another behind her back, then decided he preferred the first young lady. But the first would another not have him back because she was afraid he’d just leave her again or find another on the side. So he settles for a bird in the hand as opposed to two in the bush… which is what he should have done in the first place… hahahaha!

  10. Jane Ramsden says:

    Apologies, I seem to have another ‘another’ in the above missen!

  11. Claire O'Connell says:

    I have a song book of Irish country songs from 1909 with this song in. Vol 1 where it is contained are mostly Ulster songs and the editor mentions the verse about robbing of the wild bird’s nest to show how there are still examples of the ‘old Gaelic idiom” penetrating through the verse and coming in touch with the Gaelic imagination, his implication being that much of this kind of imagery was lost as English was thrust on Ireland as the colonizer’s language and the old Gaelic words that had originally been sung to many melodies were often lost and forgotten. As to the meaning of the imagery he is unfortunately silent. One for the Gaelic literature experts perhaps. The parts of the song published in the book are referred to as coming from an “old ballad” from County Derry.

  12. Diana says:

    Enjoyed hearing the song, and also found many of the comments really interesting. One lives and learns.

  13. Muzza (N.W.Surrey.UK) says:

    @Claire………….all this interesting stuff and all an old pleb like me can wonder at is…….where has your comment been stuck since Feb 26th!!!!!!…I wont even mention “Steve’s” comment from yesterday ref ‘The herring song’…it’s all beyond my comfort zone.

  14. Diana says:

    Linda only 6.1/2 months to go now. Do you recall the song that we were going to learn so that we could sing along at the Bellowhead concert?

  15. Melllaaa says:

    (The scene is witnessed by the story teller)
    (A virile lad: dark as the very brown wood and a maiden: whey: ill health, shock or fear
    Wan: pale; by Abhann’s side = riverside)
    (The lad’s heart belongs to another and he asks the maiden to be his second choice)
    (She refuses his advances and says she will find her own true love and give her love to him – rob a wild bird’s nest, etc.)
    Whether the robing of a bird’s nest is connected to the lad’s comment of ‘…For the wee birds all have come and gone Since I my true love have seen,” he said
    “Since I my true love have seen”…’
    Or whether the maiden is saying she will give her fertility to her own true love!

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